Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chicago 2013

We arrived in Chicago at 10 pm May 16, 2013. When we are in big cities, Andrew and I try and use public transportation as much as possible because: 1) it is cheaper; 2) it is very convenient; and 3) it is interesting to observe locals. Unfortunately, the 1 hour train ride from Chicago's O'Hare Airport to our hotel (Dana Hotel & Spa) was made extremely uncomfortable due to an old drunk who made racist remarks to people getting on the train and told stories that didn't make any sense. I guess observing certain locals isn't fun.

Andrew was starving by the time we checked into our hotel, so although it was midnight, after we checked in we walked across the street to Bijan's to get some supper. The food was amazing and the restaurant was surprisingly busy for midnight on a Thursday.

After a much needed sleep in we woke up and hit the town around 10:30 on May 17. Our first mission was food... again. We decided to head south and see the river and find a bite to eat by the "Loop". After passing a couple of places we decided to try Potbelly's (a sandwich restaurant) and we were glad we did. Andrew and I couldn't believe how delicious the sandwiches were; they were the best we had ever eaten.

With food in our stomachs we walked to Millennium Park and saw "Cloud Gate",

to the Jay Pritzker Pavillion,

to the Crown Fountain,

to the Art Institute of Chicago, Grant Park, Buckingham Memorial Fountain

and Soldier Field (where the Bears play, a football stadium). After a long day of walking we took the train around the Loop, saw some more outdoor art pieces and went home to our hotel for a rest before our evening excursion. After some relaxation, Andrew and I went to the famous Gino's Pizza for some Chicago deep dish.

On May 18 we went for a beautiful walk along Lakeshore Drive and the Gold Coast,

before heading to Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

After we ate at Potbelly's for lunch, again, we went to the Navy Pier.

Then we went for a river and lake cruise and learned some interest facts about Chicago.

On May 19 we were contemplating a Cubs game but decided to go to a a couple trendy neighbourhoods (Bucktown and Wicker Park) instead.

It was a really beautiful day, so instead of talking the L to our next destination (Armitage Ave and Fullerton beach) we decided to walk. Unfortunately, this walk took us through an industrial part of town where there were what appeared to be abandoned warehouses and houses with signs in the windows saying "We will call the cops". We escaped this sketchy part of town and enjoyed the rest of the day watching beach volleyball games at Fullerton Beach.

May 20 we got up early and went to the Sears Tower.

We even went out on the sky deck.

After that, we finally spent time of the Magnificent Mile. It was a perfect day to spend shopping because it was so hot (felt like 40 degrees) so we were popping into stores to take advantage of their A/C.

On May 21 we decided to do some more shopping along Lincoln Park. After an early evening nap we went to Star Trek where we ordered a large popcorn and pop. The sizes were twice as big as the larges that you can purchase in Canada. It was ridiculous, and of course the popcorn and pop had free refills (which we took advantage of).

May 22 was our last day in Chicago. After we packed our bags, we had a few hours to burn so we went to the Shedd Aquarium.

We had a great time in Chicago; it is a beautiful city.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friends in Koh Samui

We arrived in Koh Samui on December 22 and were greeted by Ryan Luft and 2 of his friends (Adam from Texas, and Jonni from Finland) and their scooters. Andrew and I jumped on the back of the scooters and we drove to our hotel.

Soon after checking in, we had a drink at a bar overlooking the valley. Even though it was cloudy it was still beautiful.

Next, we went out for dinner, and then to a sauna. The guys twisted our rubber arms to head down to an Irish pub in Bo Phut (the village we are staying in) to grab a pint of Guinness.

On December 23 we went with Ryan to see his school and watch some Christmas plays his students were putting on. The kids were CRAZY.

After Ryan was done at school, Andrew, Ryan, Jonni and I went to a really nice hotel to enjoy its pool and grab a bite to eat. The pool was huge and had an amazing view.

Next, we went to a place they called "Sunset Mansion", which is an abandoned house from which Ryan and his friends have seen many beautiful sunsets. Unfortunately, the day was a bit cloudy, but we still enjoyed the view.

On December 24 we went "hotel shopping" to find a hotel for December 26-29. After scooting around the island for the afternoon we went for dinner at Fisherman's Village, for drinks at a restaurant Ryan and his friends frequented called Addy's (where we ate 90% of our meals), and to "Jack Bar" to play pool and hula hoop.

On December 25, Andrew, Ryan and I caught a ferry to Koh Phanang, an island 1 hour away from Koh Samui that is known for its full moon parties. In Thailand, tourists order "buckets" of alcohol, which consist of 1 mickey of alcohol of your choice, 1 can of pop, and 1 can of Red Bull, all mixed in a plastic bucket with at least 4 straws and some ice. Since we hadn't had a bucket yet we each decided to order one.

We had a really good time, to say the least. Here are a couple of pictures from the evening:

Here are fire spinners.

I declared it my mission to steal something glow in the dark from somebody during the evening, so I danced up to this poor guy, took his glasses off his face, and danced away.

A picture of Andrew and I... and my glow in the dark glasses.

On December 26 we went back to Koh Samui and met up with Jonni and Adam to go to Mission Impossible. After the movie, we went for a pint at the Irish pub.

The morning and early afternoon of December 27 was spent sunbathing at our hotel. After that, we met up with Ryan and Jonni. We went for a cruise and had a beear at "Sunset Mansion". This is me and Jonni up on the deck. As you can see, I am laughing. Jonni was hilarious, and had us cracking up all the time.

Next, we had a drink at Friend Bar in Mae Nam village. Here is a group shot of us (the only one we have I think). From left to right: Rue (a South African teacher at Ryan's school), Andrew, Ryan, Adam, Me and Jonni.

After that we went to a beach in Chaweng (the touristy part of Koh Samui), had a hookah, and lit candle lanterns into the sky.

On December 28, we spent some more time around the pool, hung out with Ryan for the day, and did some shopping in Chaweng.

It was really nice having people show us around in Koh Samui and being able to scoot around the town. We had a really good time with Ryan, Jonni and Adam, and wished we could have spent more time in Koh Samui with them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Birthday

We spent half of my birthday on Railay lazing around the pool, and half in Krabi Town, which doesnt appear to be too geared toward tourism.

After arriving in Krabi via longboat we checked into our hotel and found out that we could use the pool of another hotel just around the corner. We dropped our bags off and went for a dip.

For dinner we went to the hotel that had the pool and ate on their rooftop patio.

The patio also had 2 for 1 cocktails, and Andrew and I tried a few, which were surprisingly delicious.

I'm trying, as always, to celebrate my birthday for as many days as possible, and since Alberta is 14 hours behind Thailand, I will be celebrating my birthday again on December 22 (because it is really December 21 in Canada).

Cliffs in Railay

We arrived in Railay by ferry and then longboat late in the afternoon on December 18, after spending the morning on the beach in Koh Phi Phi. We shared a longboat with a couple Australian guys who enjoyed "adventchas" and asked us if we were from "Canadia".

Once arriving on Railay we realized it had a completely different atmosphere than Koh Phi Phi. There were actually other "adults" around, which we had been missing. Our first night we stopped at a beach pub to listen to some great live music.

December 19 we went to the beach and hung out. Unfortunately we weren't as cautious with the sunscreen as we needed to be because we both got a little burnt. In the evening after we returned to our hotel from dinner we ended up meeting our neighbors, Emily and Gary. They were a married couple (she was from England and he was from Ireland) and we had a really good time with them. Since I had been sick I opted out of drinking, and I'm glad I did, because halfway through the night, after a long conversation about how North America is behind in fashion, Gary had convinced Andrew to put on his clothes. Andrew was wearing baggy jeans that had elastics around his ankles and cargo pockets, a flannel shirt, and leather boots. Surprisingly he didn't look that bad, but this fashion definitely hasn't hit Canada yet. We were hanging out in their room so we didn't have the camera and I didn't take a picture of it, hopefully I will get my hands on the picture soon! Also, thanks to Emily and Gary we now have a few English sayings.

December 20 we decided to rent a kayak and go around parts of the island. We didn't take the camera but the cliffs in Railay were very beautiful. After our kayaking adventure, we decided that we were sick of getting so dirty from sand being blown in our faces at the beach, so we opted to stay at our hotel pool. We met Emily and Gary there for a few more laughs before they took off. In the evening, Andrew and I tried to enjoy a sunset on Railay beach, which is supposed to be beautiful, but unfortunately it was too cloudy.

On December 21 we woke up and went down to the beach to take some better pictures, as it was our last day in Railay before a quick stay in Krabi on our way to Koh Samui.

We had a really good time in Railay, even though some spots on the island smelled HORRIBLE. Railay is known for it's amazing rock climbing, but because we were too lazy and sick we decided not to do any climbs. Plus, we didn't really trust the Thai rock climbing equipment.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Party Island - Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

December 14, we boarded a plane from Hong Kong to Phuket, Thailand. It was late once we landed (12am), so we hired a taxi to take us to Phuket town to check into our hotel.

After a quick sleep in Phuket (the hotel was a little dodgy), we boarded a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. The first day we arrived we checked into our hotel and hit the beach. The beach and cliffs were beautiful.

After dinner we wandered down to the beach and watched some fire throwers perform, which were super impressive. We wandered back to our hotel and got a drink at a pub across the street from an Irish Pub (Jordan's) where there were 10 English guys outside trying to lure customers into the pub. We found out later that these Englishmen were "working" for free, we weren't sure why they would do this but we assume they received alcohol in payment of their services. The later the evening became and therefore the more alcohol they drank, the funnier they became. They were so entertaining Andrew and I watched them as they tried different techniques to get people into the pub.

Next we went back to the beach and saw that it had transformed into several HUGE nightclubs.

December 16 was another beach day. The evening was similar to the previous night, watching the Englishmen try to lure customers into the Irish Pub and going to the beach party.

On December 17, while waiting for our favourite restaurant to open (La Mamita, where we ate 90% of our meals), we went on a small climb up to the island's viewpoint. Even though it was 10 am we were sweating like crazy by the time we got to the top. The slight exertion was definitely worth the trip.

The weather while we were on the island was not the best, it was very cloudy and rained for a little bit each day, but this suited us just fine as it prevented us from getting burnt.

Koh Phi Phi was definitely a party island filled with "kids" (mostly in their early 20s). During the evenings and our "supervision" of the beach parties, Andrew would shake his head and say: "What would their parents think?" I'm inclined to think that what their parents don't know won't hurt them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We Aren't In Europe Anymore

We are officially back traveling after ending our European vacation 13 months ago.

Our first stop in Asia was Hong Kong. We had a great 16 hour flight from Calgary (via Vancouver) to Hong Kong with Air Canada and enjoyed several movies and a few TV shows courtesy of their high tech TV programming. We were so tired when we arrived in Hong Kong that we immediately went to our hotel and went to bed. Surprisingly our accommodations were not that small and we had more than enough room. The only thing we did notice was that doorways and ceilings are way smaller than back home, instead of the average ceiling height of 9 feet back home, in Hong Kong it appears to be 7 feet. It makes me feel like I have to duck under things… even though I am quite a bit shorter than 7 feet tall.

After an 11 hour sleep, we woke up on December 12 and went for a walk down by the water to see a view of Kowloon. 

There were potted plants everywhere and a lot of poinsettias (or at least that is what I think they were). Hong Kong was interesting because there was such a juxtaposition of new and old.

Next we went to the 43rd floor in the Bank of China Building to get a view of the city.

After, we went to Hong Kong City Park. As with most city parks we have been to, this one did not disappoint. It had waterfalls, viewpoints of the city and benches galore.

Then we took a tram to the peak for another view of Hong Kong.

Surprisingly we did all this before noon. We took a much needed break for lunch at the peak and had some vegetables and noodles. At lunch we both ordered water, and were surprised when it was served hot. It was kind of weird but I was glad because it was a little chilly outside. We took the tram back down and went back to Hong Kong City Park.

Then we went walking around to look at different buildings, because buildings here are quite strange to us “country folk” (at least this is how we feel when the biggest building in Red Deer has at most 7 stories).

This is a government building.

From all the walking we were so tired so we went back to the hotel for a “nap” or a sleep as Andrew likes calling it, because it lasted 4 hours.

At 8 pm we went for a pint of Guinness at an Irish pub we found earlier (Delaney’s) and then supper at a vegetarian Indian restaurant (a throw back from our trip to NYC). After dinner we went to Kowloon to get a view of the Hong Kong skyline at night. Many of the buildings were elaborately lit up with Christmas decorations.

When we checked in to our hotel, the front desk staff informed us that we were staying 2 nights, so on December 13, 2011 we got all packed up and went to check out. The front desk staff were having problems checking us out and then he asked us if there was a reason why we wanted to check out early. Immediately we realized that: 1) we had no idea what day it was;
2) we had 1 more night in Hong Kong; and
3) our flight to Thailand was not until Dec 14.
We felt like complete idiots, even though we still (almost) feel like it isn’t 100% our fault for trying to check out early. I’m actually surprised this has never happened before. Since we suddenly had an extra day in Hong Kong, we decided to go to Disneyland.

Disneyland was a lot of fun, but it really tuckered us out… I think we must be getting old, or we are REALLY young because everywhere I looked there were little kids either sleeping or throwing tantrums because they were so tired.

We are learning to cope with people not giving us any personal space when we are standing in lines of walking, and pretty much in every situation. It was especially bad at Disneyland. Andrew and I typically stand, at the closest, 1 foot behind somebody, and we expect the same from the people standing behind us. But, the Asians do not give us any room. It is so bad, they are ALWAYS touching us. It makes me so uncomfortable! This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it kind of gives you an idea. Note how much room is in front of me, yet I am being swarmed from behind. This was typical.

Thank goodness for Andrew, because he would stand further back than me so that he was a buffer between them and me. At some point during the day I developed a strategy where I widened by stance and have one of my legs lingering behind me as far back as possible to try and create as much distance between me and the person behind me. The Asians would be tripping all over my leg and foot trying to get as close as possible, but surprisingly this strategy has been quite effective so far, even though I’m sure I look really stupid.

December 14, we went to a bunch of different markets in Kowloon. We went to the jade market (sold jewellery), ladies market (sold clothing), goldfish market (sold animals) and flower market (sold flowers). This part of Hong Kong is what Andrew and I were expecting all of Hong Kong to look like. 

Then we went to a Temple. It was neat to see a Temple in the midst of all the skyscrapers.

To kill some time before our flight to Thailand we went back to Kowloon to look at the Hong Kong skyline where we discovered that we were tourist attractions for some people. A man (who did not speak English) wanted to get his picture taken with us. It was so strange that when he left I made Andrew make sure he still had all our money, passports, credit cards, etc. Since nothing was missing, I guess all he really did want was a picture.

Next a quick stop in Phuket, Thailand before going to Ko Phi Phi.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The End In Amsterdam

Andrew and I got to Amsterdam October 4. We found our apartment, got some groceries and settled in.

October 5 we decided to walk around the main canals, our favourite part of Amsterdam.

We ended up at our favourite canal and managed to catch yet another swerving paddle boat, with 3 tourists bumping into the walls of the canal and getting stuck in the corner. Look at the bridge, people were trying to teach them to steer and taking pictures of them getting stuck.

October 6, it rained all day. We were like little kids looking out the window waiting for it to stop raining so that we could go out and play. We managed to get some errands done, but that was about it.

October 7 we decided to see some things we had never seen in Amsterdam before, so we walked to the 'I amsterdam' sign in the Museumplein.

Next we decided to walk around a 'shopping' area of Amsterdam, another place we had never been. I almost died. There were so many people on these couple of streets and of course the streets seemed to go on FOREVER. I finally convinced Andrew to leave the area, without having gone in many stores.
We spent the rest of the day/evening walking around the canals. We were lucky to be sitting by our favourite canal when it lit up.

Since we didn't enjoy doing anything outside our normal element of canal walking the day before, October 8 we went back to wandering the canals. We found a nice spot closer to our apartment in the 'Old West'. It was a giant intersection of 5 canals. Unfortunately we found it late so it was pretty quiet with the exception of a few REALLY large boats.

Night picture of our favourite canal.

We planned on doing a few day trips from Amsterdam in order to see some more Dutch cities, so October 9 we went to Utrecht. Since half of Holland is at or below sea level even the farm land have canals running through them. Here is a picture from the train, This is very typical of a farmers field, sometimes the canals even have boats in them along the field.

When we got off the train at Utrecht we walked right into a HUGE mall (there was no avoiding it). If that was unpleasant enough we finally got out in the streets and the city was crazy busy (probably because it was a Saturday), there were so many people everywhere! One of the reasons Utrecht is deemed to be really special is because the canal is not at the street level and instead there are wharfs beside the canals. The wharfs are now home to a bunch of restaurants.

Andrew and I didn't enjoy Utrecht very much because the canals were not as usable as they are in Amsterdam. There was no place to hang out. After about 45 minutes of being in Utrecht we came to the conclusion that we were idiots for leaving Amsterdam, so we got back on the train and came back. We didn't enjoy Utrecht very much but we learned a good lesson: Don't leave Amsterdam, so we decided to cut out our remaining day trips we had planned.

Once we arrived in Amsterdam we were greeted by boats of pirates.

These people had live music on board, were chanting, singing, 'Arrr'ing', weaving in between other boats and stealing items from other pirate boats.

October 10, our last Sunday here, we decided to go to Vondelpark and take sneaky pictures of bikes. Here are a few of our favourites.

A bike with a box in the front with a couple kids in it. This is how newborns are commonly transported because their carseats can fit in the big boxes.

A family on bikes, both Mom and Dad have a child on their bike.

A bucket of 4 kids.

Unfortunately we missed the 'jackpot' shot, which was a Dad and his 3 daughters on a bike. There were 2 seats in the back of the bike and then one more in the very front. The girls were between ages 7-14... I don't know how he did it. We missed this picture because of 'Merlin the Homeless Magician'. Merlin, which is how Andrew refers to him, came to talk to us with his clan of homeless drummers. After a few minutes of him guessing where we were from he offered to perform a 'real' marriage ceremony, because according to him we were not actually married. At this point I decided it was best to leave before he put some homeless spell on us. Unfortunately Andrew got hung up in an awkward discussion with one of the homeless drummers who was teaching Andrew about how hurricanes got started (offshore drilling in Antarctica... of course!).

We left after this and went walking around the canals for the rest of the day.

October 11 we stopped at the big boat intersection we found earlier. When we sat down at our 'regular' bench I noticed something different. Look at the first picture taken October 10 and then the next picture taken October 11. Can you spot the item that has changed colours (you may have to click and enlarge the pictures to spot the difference)?

The answer: the cross and 2 balls hanging from the pole protruding from the canal changed from white to red, overnight. When we came here on October 11 I was telling Andrew that the cross and balls looked differently. I kept insisting that they were white the day before, but Andrew couldn't remember, until he took out the camera to look at the pictures we had taken the day before.

 Here is a boat about to come to the big boat intersection, they lifted the bridge for him.

October 12 we decided to have a throw back and do things we used to do in the summer. So we left the apartment fairly early and went canal walking. The only problem is that it is now the weather has changed and it is pretty cold out, too cold to spend the entire day outside. So we rushed but still managed to make it back to our favourite places and having a picnic lunch before going back to the apartment to warm up.

Today October 13 we leave for Gatwick. We are sad to be leaving and sad that our trip has finally come to an end but excited to come home.
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